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Deukmejian Criticized as State Stops Work on 2 Sex Education Films

July 18, 1986|PAUL JACOBS | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The Deukmejian Administration is canceling the production of two state-financed adult sex education films after spending more than $40,000 on the projects, prompting charges of censorship to avoid controversy during an election year.

One film was intended to impress upon sexually active men that they share responsibility for birth control while the other was aimed at persuading Latino couples that family planning is consistent with their cultural values.

In a related action last month to settle a 1981 lawsuit, the Administration offered $300,000 in grants to an anti-abortion group seeking to end the state Office of Family Planning's involvement in sex education in the public schools, said state family planning chief D. Jerome Hansen.

Anti-abortion organizations have contended that the Office of Family Planning has for too long emphasized birth control when it should be encouraging sexual abstinence.

The settlement, including money to prepare educational materials for schools that would emphasize abstinence, was rejected by the group, the Women's Committee for Responsible Government, and the case is scheduled for trial in August.

But Hellan Roth Dowden, executive director of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, charged that the lawsuit was without merit in the first place and there is no need to settle it. She said that by offering to settle, the Deukmejian Administration attempted to "avoid a trial on sex in an election year."

Dowden called the decision to cancel the films, which never were shot, an example of censorship and an effort to appease anti-abortion, anti-sex education groups at a time when Gov. George Deukmejian is seeking reelection.

She and other critics point out that in 1985, the Office of Family Planning, for the first time, contracted with an avowed anti-abortion group, the Right to Life League of Southern California, to produce a videotape aimed at persuading teen-agers that abstinence is the best solution to the growing problem of adolescent pregnancies. The $35,000 production is scheduled to be completed in September.

Neutral Stand Cited

However, Hansen and other Administration officials insist that they are simply trying to be fair to all sides, keeping the state neutral in the heated, continuing battle over the state's role in family planning, abortion and sex education.

Hansen in an interview acknowledged that the two film projects were "terminated" in the past few days after he and other officials in the state Department of Health Services found them objectionable.

Hansen said his department has always retained the authority to have the final word on whether a video, film or pamphlet will be produced.

In one case, Hansen said he decided to end a contract with prize-winning San Francisco film maker James Locker after he read Locker's script on the subject of male responsibility for family planning "because I couldn't quite figure out what he was doing."

In the proposed script, titled "Tears of a Clown," a promising young male stand-up comedian discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant and that he must deal with the consequences of his own failure to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Although the woman later miscarries, Locker's characters discuss the possibility of an abortion--something the woman considers but the comedian opposes.

The film was intended to reach men 20 to 25 years old--the ages when studies show the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies occur, said Locker, who estimated that about half of the film's $75,000 budget has already been expended.

Problem With 'Abortion'

He said that the use of the word "abortion" in the script was a major point of contention, as was the use of a nightclub setting.

Hansen agreed: "This office doesn't work in the abortion field. We don't fund abortions or films about abortions."

The other project, a Spanish-language video tape prepared by Planned Parenthood of Santa Cruz County, was canceled after Department of Health Services' chief of public affairs, William Ihle, reviewed the script and concluded that it presented "stereotypes of the Latino community I didn't think appropriate."

"I consider it inappropriate for taxpayers' money to be used for anything that would be considered to be a slur to any group," Ihle said.

The script, by Eric Thiermann, whose documentary "Under the Nuclear Cloud" was nominated for an Academy Award two years ago, concerns a middle-class Latino couple with a 14-year-old daughter who believes she may be pregnant, setting up a dramatic confrontation and lengthy discussions about divergent Latino attitudes toward family planning.

The manuscript had been reviewed and approved by a Santa Cruz area Latino advisory panel, said Michael Hall, the Planned Parenthood chapter's executive director. He estimated that $4,000 of the project's $20,000 has been spent, and he said his group will consider legal action to complete the videotape.

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